Many people look forward to Halloween just for the pure thrill of a good scare. For others, the anxiety of going to a haunted house can be too overwhelming. Understanding what to expect will help with the courage and confidence needed to make it through a haunted house, hayride or even a fog-filled corn maze. One of the main fears is the question of whether or not the actors of a haunted house touch you. It's important to know that despite what the heavily makeup covered zombies want you to believe, a haunted house can't (shouldn't) actually harm you. It's their job as actors to make you feel frightened, not to cause real pain or damage.
Unfortunately, these situations can happen. Just recently in the news, a haunted house employee in Chicago was charged with battery and disorderly conduct. Dressed as a clown, he allegedly made inappropriate comments to visitors and even touched some of them with an unidentified object. And then, a Wisconsin man was charged with three fourth-degree sexual assault charges as well as disorderly conduct and lewd and lascivious behavior for groping people inside a
haunted house. Thankfully though, not every haunted house is in favor of such a “hands-on” approach. And the rule typically goes both ways, with visitors not being allowed to touch the actors, either. Although most haunted houses aren't a year-round business and many are run by nonprofit organizations or by individuals at their own private residences, they still have obligations to follow laws just as other companies and individuals do.
Be aware that some truly scary attractions do exist that go further (much further) than your standard haunted house. Often, these are adult-only attractions that make you sign a waiver. They may contain scenes of extreme and graphic violence and may also go farther in allowing actors to scare visitors by touching them. Some businesses state that when tickets are purchased the visitor agrees to the rules of the attraction, which include allowing actors to touch or even grab them and separate them from the group. Some of these places even forbid groups of people from traveling together – instead, each visitor must go through the attraction alone. Scary.
Part of the Fun vs. Disorderly Conduct
So when does an action cross the line from being ‘scary' to being considered disorderly conduct, harassment or assault? If an actor reaches out and ends up unintentionally hitting a visitor hard enough to give them a bloody nose, for example, the actor and business could be held legally responsible for those injuries. No one wants an evening of fun to turn into an accident; so many haunted attractions follow the no-touching rule to avoid any criminal liability for mishaps. But, what if an actor with innocent intentions makes a visitor uncomfortable or their actions are mistaken for sexual harassment? It's a touchy subject and can get complicated. That's where we come in.
A disorderly conduct charge can be scary and can have far reaching implications and consequences for anyone unfortunate enough to be convicted. Disorderly conduct convictions can result in serious fines, loss of a driver's license or professional license and can leave a permanent mark on your criminal record, affecting employment opportunities. In these cases, both the actor and the haunted house operator are potentially liable.
The criminal defense law firm of Villani & Deluca, P.C. is located in Point Pleasant Beach, New Jersey. Our criminal defense attorneys have a long, proven track record of successfully defending clients in Monmouth County and Ocean County, New Jersey against disorderly conduct charges. So, fear not and contact us or give us a call at (732) 709-7757 for a free consultation.
The best way to make a haunted attraction fun – like it's supposed to be – is to research and choose wisely which attraction is right for you. Know what to expect before you go, and then have a blast. After all, Halloween only comes once a year – make the most of it!